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McKinney discovers success in art

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People who graduate from MSU all create their own personal legacy. For Sam McKinney (73), that legacy has taken the form of works of art that can be seen across the country.

McKinney grew up in coal country in the small town of Fleming-Neon. He had encouragement from his parents to utilize his artistic gifts as a child, but the public schools didn’t offer any art classes. Luckily, McKinney said there were teachers along the way that would volunteer to teach monthly art classes or tap him to complete artistic projects.

As he learned to draw and work with pastels, McKinney said word of his ability led to a few local commissions for portraits, which would shape the artist’s career.

“It connected with the general public. It was seen as something that was a representation of someone they loved and it was something different than photographs,” McKinney said. “Portraits were kind of my saving grace.”

McKinney enrolled at MSU in 1969 and continued to do commissioned portraiture while earning his bachelor’s degree in art in 1973. He later obtained a master’s degree in art in 1992. MSU is also where he expanded his horizons and began doing portrait sculptures in bronze.

Both McKinney’s painted and sculpted works of art have been nationally collected and have popped up in both familiar and prestigious locations. Several of his stainless steel sculptures line the grounds of Kings Daughter’s Medical Center in
Ashland, Ky. His painted portrait of the late Kentucky Congressman Carl D. Perkins is a permanent installation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McKinney considers one of his recent pieces, “Adam’s First Breath,” the culmination of his artistic journey. The 1,800 pound sculpture of bronze and granite is on display at the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum in Hamilton, Ohio.

This piece, along with several of his other sculptures, was recently featured in a Chinese-based art book titled “Masters in Landscape and Public Sculpture.” McKinney’s art has also been featured in publications from Kennedy Publishing.

Currently living in his home/art studio in Morehead, McKinney feels a deep affection for Morehead State. It’s what led him to teach courses in figure drawing and watercolor as an adjunct professor from 2002 to 2007.

“It’s just exciting to be around young creative minds that you can help show a path to,” he said.

McKinney knows how lucky he is to be able to make a comfortable living with his art and he believes he owes much of his success to his MSU experience.

“MSU’s faculty really pushed me to the edge as far as my abilities. They opened up an avenue of possibilities for what I could achieve,” McKinney said.

Interested in a career in art? Visit for more information on degree programs in MSU’s Department of Art & Design.


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